Tag Archives: Skeletor

Roton: Evil assault vehicle! (1984)

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Roton was a toy that, as a kid, I admired from afar, but was never able to own (at least until many years later). I remember very clearly going over to my friend Tyson’s house in first grade and being bowled over by his collection, which dwarfed mine. Among other things I got to see in person for the first time toys like Zodac, Stratos, and the amazing Roton.

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Design & Development

December 1, 1982 marks the earliest known mention of Roton, where it appears in the Masters of the Universe Bible. It was originally conceived as a vehicle for the heroic warriors:

ROTON – when this vehicle’s in the fight, He-Man’s enemies scatter, literally. He-Man rides atop the round vehicle which has a swiftly moving buzzsaw sipping around its center. Instead of blades, the buzzsaw’s blunted, club-like appendages sweep away anything or anyone in the way.

In a way, conceptually the Roton seems to have been merged with another early idea, called the Tornado Traveler (also from the MOTU Bible):

“TORNADO TRAVELER* – a wild, whipping flying craft which only Skeletor can control through the skies of both Infinita and Eternia. Whenever it appears it’s preceded by a violent windstorm.”

While the Roton seems to have been originally intended as a ground assault vehicle, its spinning blades make it look like it could plausibly fly, and so it was often depicted that way.

A couple of early concept drawings related to the Roton appear in The Power and the Honor Foundation‘s Catalog Volume One. Both are illustrated by Ed Watts.

The first is a Roger Sweet concept call the Gyro. This does not seem to be directly related to the Roton, as the drawing is dated September 17, 1983, and the Roton had its name set already in December of 1982 and the trademark filed on August 22, 1983. Still, the rotating blade concept is very similar.

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Gyro, by Ed Watts. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Volume One

This undated drawing by Ed Watts shows a Roton that bears close resemblance to the final toy, with some key differences. The color scheme is red and white. The design around the sides is in keeping with the look of the final toy, except the decals are simple triangular shapes. The face on the front is quite different, as is the design of the seat back. All in all this version looks much less monstrous. I would guess that at this point it was still intended to be a heroic vehicle.

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Artwork by Ed Watts. Image via The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog Volume One

However, up until this point in the line (1984), there hadn’t been a single vehicle produced that was specifically intended for the Evil Warriors. Perhaps with that in consideration, the design was changed to make it look more sinister:

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Roton cross sell art. Image courtesy of Axel Giménez

The above cross sell art, which matches exactly the look of the final toy, shows what changes were made to make the Roton fit with Skeletor’s crew. The vehicle was now black, with red blades. The face on the front became much more monstrous, and organic-looking spiny plates were added to the back side of the vehicle. The shape of the twin guns on the front was also overhauled.

Packaging & Toy

William George did the packaging artwork for the Roton. In his illustration, the vehicle is cruising along the ground, as a lizard and a tiny demon-like creature look on. George often included little creatures like this in his artwork.

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Image scanned by me, repaired by Retroist

The toy itself is relatively compact and simple. No batteries were required. You simply rolled it along the ground, and an internal set of gears would cause the buzz saw to rotate with a satisfying (or annoying, if you’re a parent) clicking sound. Of all the evil vehicles, this one seems to lend itself most to fleet-building. Like the Battle Ram, it works as a ground or air assault vehicle.

Model Kit & Artwork

Monogram produced a model kit version of the toy, as they did for the Attak Trak and Talon Fighter. In the case of those two vehicles, Monogram based the models on early prototypes or concept drawings of the toys. I wonder if that isn’t also the case with the Monogram Roton. It looks closer to the final toy than the to the Ed Watts concept art, but there are a few differences as well, the canopy being the most obvious one. Larry Elmore did the packaging artwork:

Curiously, the Roton doesn’t show up once in the mini comics, while the Land Shark (released a year later) shows up in multiple comics across multiple years.

Errol McCarthy illustrated this scene of Skeletor “mowing the grass” in the Roton. I believe this was intended for use on a T-shirt:

The Roton makes some prominent appearances in Golden Books stories, including Dangerous Games, The Rock Warriors, Secret of the Dragon’s Egg, and The Magic Mirror:

The vehicle also plays a supporting role in the Lady Bird story, He-Man and the Asteroid of Doom (images via He-Man.org):

The 1985 German Masters of the Universe Magazine is mostly filled with toy photography, but it does include a short comic story, and the Roton is a formidable presence:

The Roton appears in the background of a few different posters by Earl Norem and William George:

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Animation

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The Roton made several appearances in the Filmation He-Man cartoon, although it was never a regularly used vehicle. The Filmation design is simplified for ease of animation, and its buzz saw has longer (but fewer) blades, but otherwise it’s fairly true to the toy design:

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Advertising Images

Of all the evil vehicles produced for the line, the Roton is my favorite. You just have to take one look at it and you immediately get what it’s about and you feel sorry for any heroic warriors who have to go up against it.

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From the 1985 German MOTU Magazine. Image via He-Man.org
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From the 1984 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.
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From the 1985 Mattel Dealer Catalog. Image via Orange Slime.
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Roton in Action

Øyvind Meisfjord has kind contributed the following image and video of the Roton in action:

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Webstor: Evil master of escape (1984)

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Webstor, not to be confused with 1980s TV character Webster, was a figure I never had as a kid, but always coveted. His looks weren’t as striking to me as characters like Clawful or Whiplash, but his action feature was endlessly fascinating.

Webstor, or Black Widow as he was originally known, first appears in writing in the December 1982 Masters of the Universe Bible by Michael Halperin:

BLACK WIDOW* – as his name suggests, this creepy individual has no scruples whatever. His chief asset is the ability to spin a strong web line in order to climb, snare and imprison those against whom he seeks revenge.

Update: Rebecca Salari Taylor recently shared some early concept art by Mark Taylor. The artwork below was created around the time Mark was working on concepts for both He-Man and Conan. If you look closely at the head/face, all the design details for Webstor are there, minus his additional eyes. The coloring is, of course, quite different, and this character doesn’t have a spider theme. The artwork appears to be undated, but this would have been done early in 1981.

Image source: Rebecca Salari Taylor

It seems apparent now that Roger Sweet used the face/head from Mark’s drawing, and repurposed it for Webstor. Combining the head from Mark’s green henchman and the body from Mark’s Skeletor design, Roger added new armor and modified the color scheme to help set the character apart. According to The Power and Honor Foundation Catalog, Roger intended for the figure’s differential pulley system to run through the body of the figure itself. To save costs (and perhaps because a grappling hook from a figure’s head doesn’t make a great deal of sense), engineers moved the mechanism to the back of Webstor’s armor.

Roger’s Webstor drawing, a mashup of existing designs. Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation

Other than the engineering change, the above concept is remarkably close to the look of the final figure. One difference that stands out is the flares over the shoulders on his armor, which did not make it into the final toy. Webstor’s hook is also quite different from the concept – Mattel ended up reusing the grappling hook from the Big Jim Pirate Boat instead:

Webstor doesn’t look particularly spider-like to me, other than the fact that he has four eyes and a black widow marking on his armor. Aside from those details, he could pass for some kind of blue orc.

A hand-painted final prototype of the figure appears in a 1984 Mattel Germany catalog. For some reason they have him holding Trap Jaw’s blaster attachment:

Image courtesy of Olmo

We can see a hand-painted version of the figure on the cardboard cutout below, which came from a promotional display. In this version he appears to be holding the version of the Castle Grayskull rifle that came with specially marked Man-E-Faces figures:

Aside from the reused grappling hook, Webstor was also given another recycled accessory – the rifle from the Castle Grayskull weapons rack. In most cases this was molded in orange plastic, but some rare examples came with a blue rifle. Both versions appear in early catalog photos as well.

Update: according to Springor Spanior, who had a blue gun version since childhood, the blue gun is marked with a “3,” while his orange gun is marked with a “4.” However, I should note that my orange Webstor gun is also marked as “3.”

Webstor’s cross sell art depicts him with the orange gun:

Image courtesy of Axel Giménez
Blue gun
Orange gun

Webstor’s action feature allowed him to “climb” his own string when you pulled it from the bottom. Due to the complexity of the internal pulley system, it is pretty common to find examples where the string has gotten tangled internally. That was the case with my figure, but I was able to get mine working again using He-Bro’s method.

Aside from his single carded release, Webstor was released in the following gift sets:

  • Battle Armor Skeletor/Webstor/Mer-Man
  • Battle Armor Skeletor/Webstor/Stinkor
  • Webstor/Whiplash/Stinkor
  • Webstor/Battle Armor Skeletor

The scene on the back of Webstor’s card was illustrated by Errol McCarthy, who for some reason omitted the black widow symbol on Webstor’s chest. Errol would go on to portray the character in several other illustrations for use by licensees, as well as in the 1987 Style Guide.


The style guide described Webstor like this:

This beast is inordinately strong, and is closely allied with Skeletor. He is probably one of the cleverest Evil Warriors outside of Skeletor, and that is how he gained the evil leader’s trust. His hook and winch allow him to climb and crawl in spaces where other warriors couldn’t go.

Webstor first appears in the excellent Clash of Arms mini comic, alongside a cavalcade of villains like Clawful, Whiplash, and Jitsu. However, Webstor is taken out of the fight early with a vicious kick from Stridor.


Webstor also appears in Eye of the Storm, which came packed with Snout Spout. In the story he aids Skeletor in a plot to cause chaotic storms all across Eternia.

Webstor teams up with frequent collaborator Kobra Khan in the mini comic, Rock People to the Rescue (hat tip to Øyvind Johannes Meisfjord):

Webstor also appears in the Golden Books stories, Power From the Sky and The Rock Warriors. In the latter he helps create a diversion for Skeletor, and in the former he helps his evil compatriots climb a cliff face as they journey to launch an assault on the palace of Eternia:

From The Rock Warriors, illustrated by Fred Carillo.
From Power From the Sky, Illustrated by Fred Carillo


Webstor was portrayed as one of Skeletor’s more intelligent minions in the Filmation cartoon. His design was generally consistent with the overall look of the toy, albeit with a few simplified details. The two most notable appearances, for me at least, were in “The Cat and the Spider” and “Disappearing Dragons”.

In “The Cat and the Spider” Webstor comes up against Kittrina, a member of the cat folk. This is Webstor’s debut episode and he’s on screen for a good chunk of the running time. He also flies a strange-looking version of the Wind Raider that has spider legs attached to the sides:


In “Disappearing Dragons,” Webstor teams up with Kobra Khan as they aid Skeletor in kidnapping Eternia’s dragons. They battle against another pair of characters that frequently work together – Buzz-Off and Mekaneck.


Webstor also made several appearances in poster artwork by William George and Earl Norem:

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Modulok: Evil beast with a thousand bodies (1985)

The last Masters of the Universe figures I would ever get as a kid were Rokkon, Stonedar and Modulok, for my birthday in 1986. By this point I was really getting into G.I. Joe. Colorful characters like the B.A.T. (which was kind of a Roboto clone), Viper, and Serpentor (he fit right in with the MOTU Snake Men) had finally pulled me over to the Joe side. Despite that, I was always happy to get a few more He-Man characters to add to my collection. Modulok had come out in 1985, of course, but the figure was new to me.

Modulok was given the most metal toy commercial possible. Compared to most 1980s toy ads, this was like Slayer meets Black Sabbath:

Over the years, Mattel designers toyed with several centaur-type designs, with four to six legs, and in at least one case, four arms.

Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest. Scan via Jukka Issakainen

Modulok could be configured like the either of the above designs, but he was much more insect-like than previous concepts, as shown below:

Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest. Scan via Jukka Issakainen.

Often in the development of Masters of the Universe toy designs, prototypes and concepts ended up appearing in mini comics and cartoons, due to the long lead time required to produce them. While comic artists were busy putting together mini comics, Mattel’s toy design team would continue to develop the figures. Often the finished product was noticeably different from early concepts, and that is certainly the case with Modulok. In the comic book that shipped with the figure, The Treachery of Modulok!, Modulok is based on that original concept look:

The concept/mini comic Modulok featured a set of crab-like pincers, a set of He-Man-like legs, a set of Skeletor-like legs, and a set of insect-like legs. It may be that the designer (which I believe was Ted Mayer) intended for Modulok to reuse these parts to cut down on costs.

Another Ted Mayer design, Brainiac, demonstrates a similar design philosophy:

Image source: Tomart’s Action Figure Digest. This version has one set of human hands and one set of claw hands, like Modulok.
Image courtesy of Ted Mayer. This version has two sets of clawed hands and lacks the Horde symbol of the black and white version.

The final toy came with no shared parts at all (unusual for MOTU at the time, but characteristic of Evil Horde figures), and his build was much slimmer than any figure that had come before, with the exception of Teela and Evil-Lyn.

Rather than crab-like pincers, Modulok was given three and two-fingered claws, in addition to his set of human-looking arms. Rather than Skeletor or He-Man legs, he was given one set of human-like legs with green knee pads, one set of legs with a kind of grasshopper-like design, and another set of legs that recalled the design used on Clawful and Buzz-Off. His overall look is something like a Martian crossed with an ant.


Modulok included several segmented thorax pieces, giving him an ant-like look when they were connected. He included the two heads from the concept drawing, along with five two-pronged connectors that could be used to give the figure various head, arm and leg combinations. He came with two tails, one of which could support legs or arms. He also came with a double-sided laser rifle that could be split into two pistols.

Modulok has one of the more clever names in the MOTU toyline. It’s a marriage between the words “modular” and “lock”. His construction is modular, his pieces lock together, and the hybrid word certainly sounds like a credible name for a villain.

The artwork on the box Modulok came in was very true to the overall design of the toy. However, where the action figure featured dark blue paint on some of his arms and legs, those parts were colored light purple in the box art.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

The front and back of the packaging featured illustrations of Modulok in dozens of different configuration. The idea, I’m sure, was to help kids engage with the toy more by giving them many different ideas for play. I think I eventually tried out all of them.

The scene on the back of the packaging shows Modulok transforming into various configurations mid-combat as he confounds Skeletor’s Evil Warriors:

The instruction manual that came with Modulok provided even more ideas for putting him together in bizarre new ways, including some ideas that would require purchasing multiple copies of the toy. It was a bold attempt by Mattel’s marketing department to move more units, I’m sure, but I don’t know that many parents would have been convinced to buy the same toy two or three times over.

Argentinian manufacturer Top Toys produced a version of Modulok that was packaged on the standard sized blister card. Since there was no such card set up for Modulok, Top Toys reused the cardback from Kobra Khan. The figure itself came with green limbs and is highly sought after today.

The Treachery of Modulok! mini comic was included with the toy (although not in the Top Toys example above), and as mentioned previously, depicted Modulok with his concept design rather than his final form. In the story, Modulok is a defector from Skeletor’s crew. He approaches Hordak with a plan to infiltrate Castle Grayskull. In a rather gruesome and devious plot, he mails his body parts to the heroic warriors, who are baffled by them. After the heroes leave his parts unattended, Modulok assembles himself and wreaks havoc on the unsuspecting heroes.

Modulok is the only member of the Evil Horde without the Horde bat insignia (with the exception of Multi-Bot, who was something of a robotic sequel to Modulok). It may be that his inclusion in the Horde faction was something of an afterthought. And indeed, that may also be the reason he is depicted as non-original member of the group in the mini comic and other media.

Modulok’s back story is spelled out succinctly in Mattel’s official style guide (with artwork by Errol McCarthy). These origins don’t appear to have anything to do with the story in the mini comic.

Image courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Formerly Galen Nycoff, evil scientist. He constructed a device while in prison to help him become the most deadly villain on Eternia, and emerged… Modulok! He has since allied himself with Hordak and the Evil Horde.

The Filmation series origin for Modulok follows the same basic formula, expanding upon it and giving pre-transformation Galen a pretty standard evil scientist look.

Images courtesy of Jukka Issakainen

Filmation’s take on the character design was created by Fred Carillo and Lou Ott. (Fred also did artwork for quite a few Masters of the Universe Golden Books story books and coloring books.) Here Modulok has been given purple shorts, a green belt, black markings on his legs, and some modifications to the design of his chest and hands.He is always depicted with three legs.

Modulok makes several appearances in the UK Masters of the Universe comic book series, albeit with an altered backstory (images via He-Man.org):

Modulok also makes several appearances in posters by William George, Earl Norem, and others. Notice in the last example below (from William George’s Eternia poster) that Modulok has been combined with Multi-Bot to form “Megabeast”.

(Poster images courtesy of Jukka Issakainen.)

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He-Man: “Mattel’s Jungle Man”

Artwork by Alfredo Alcala

He-Man has been depicted in many different ways over the years. Sometimes he’s something of a knight, complete with archaic English pronouns, keeping a close watch over a medieval fiefdom. Sometimes he’s a square-jawed, unbreakable man of steel, protecting a futuristic monarchy from comically-inept enemies. Sometimes he’s a barbarian warrior piloting technological wonders from another age through war-torn battle fields.

But in his first ever media incarnation, He-Man was a jungle man, something of a blond Tarzan with a dash of Conan the Barbarian, gifted with special weapons and equipment from the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull.

Indeed, it’s not surprising that early media depict He-Man as a Tarzan-like character. In the 1970s Mattel had produced a line of Tarzan toys, so it would have been a natural direction to take the new Masters of the Universe line. He-Man the jungle warrior was a short-lived concept and was soon replaced with other themes, but I’d like to explore it in this article.

Tarzan and the Giant Ape. Packaging artwork by Mark Taylor.

The first minicomic of the toyline, He-Man and the Power Sword, kicks off the MOTU mythos with the theme of He-Man as jungle tribesman turned defender of Eternia. And really, it’s not so surprising that He-Man would be characterized in this way, given that the comic was written by Don Glut (artwork by Alfredo Alcala). Glut was the creator and writer of the Dagar The Invincible comic series from the early 1970s, which features as its protagonist a blond-haired jungle warrior in a primitive costume.


In a 2001 interview conducted by Matt Jozwiak, Glut explained:

Originally, when I came onto the [MOTU] project, there were no stories at all. Not all the characters and places were yet named and not all of the characters had been invented. All that existed then were some prototype toys and some general ideas of who and what they were and what they could do.

I’d been writing comic-book and filler text stories for Western Publishing Company (a.k.a. Whitman, Gold Key Comics and Golden Press). Western then had an account with the Mattel toy company. One day my editor at Western, Del Connell, told me that Mattel was coming out with a new line of toys called Masters of the Universe and needed someone to write four booklets that would be included with the toys…

It’s hard to remember much of this, as it was long ago and so quickly executed. Basically, I was given Polaroid photos of the prototype toys. I’d written lots of sword and sorcery and heroic adventure type stories by this time and so it was relatively easy to come up with the personalities. He-Man, for instance, was your typical “noble savage stereotype” a kind of combination Tarzan and Conan. I just used the same standards and principles I’d applied to earlier stories to “Master of the Universe”. And the plots were similar, too. Most such plots involve a villain who needs “something” (a magic jewel, a secret formula, etc.) to achieve a goal (conquer the world, achieve immortality, etc.) and a brave hero who fights to prevent the villain from accomplishing this. You simply “fill in the blanks,” changing the particulars from story to story.

And indeed, this exactly the kind of story-telling used in He-Man and the Power Sword. He-Man, the mightiest warrior of tribe, sets out to defend Eternia and Castle Grayskull from unknown threats. How he comes to the conclusion that they are threatened is not explained. In this scene we get a glimpse of He-Man’s tribe in the background as he sets off with spear in hand.

Although He-Man is simple and primitive, the Sorceress soon gifts him with force field armor that adds to his strength, a battle axe, a shield, and a futuristic time warp device (the Battle Ram).

With his augmented strength, the primitive He-Man carves his home out of the bare rock using nothing but his fists.

The MacGuffin that Glut refers to as the basis for his story telling is, in this case, the Power Sword, hidden deep within Castle Grayskull. Skeletor manages to force his way into the castle and succeeds in retrieving it.

Another early Glut-penned mini comic, Battle in the Clouds, has a more subtle portrayal of the “jungle He-Man”. We don’t necessarily see He-Man as a Tarzan-like figure here, but when he needs assistance from Battle Cat, He-Man returns to the forest and makes an animal call to summon his friend:

An advertisement for the Masters of the Universe Pop-Up Game appeared in He-Man and the Power Sword that again makes reference to He-Man as a jungle warrior. From the advertisement:

Based on the Mattel jungle man. Pop-up sections are two volcanoes and the graphics of He-Man and other characters. Object of play is to cross the treacherous terrain of jungle, climbing the volcanoes which open, causing a man to fall through.

This is probably the strongest jungle-themed depiction of He-Man. The board features a thick jungle with three active volcanoes and twisting paths. Skeletor and Beast Man are the “volcano keepers” who try to destroy He-Man on his journey to save Eternia.

Western Publishing version
Peter Pan Playthings version

In the 1983 DC Comics-published The Key to Castle Grayskull, He-Man is not a jungle man per se, but he does have old friends who live in the forest – a tribe of jungle warriors led by Ceril, their chief (images via He-Man.org):

Ceril and He-Man’s story goes back further than He-Man’s partnership with Battle Cat. After He-Man defeated the sorcerer Damon, who had enslaved Ceril’s people, the tribe was ever after loyal to He-Man.

The instruction sheet that came with Castle Grayskull depicted He-Man holding a spear, hearkening back to how he was depicted in He-Man and the Power Sword. The same illustration, but with the boot knife from the aforementioned comic (as well as the original Mark Taylor b-sheet) was also used in retail ad sheets:

Finally, at one point, (probably in late 1982 or early 1983, judging from the photo below) Mattel was planning to make a jungle-themed playset for He-Man and his friends. The playset featured thick foliage, a waterfall, caves, boulders, a rickety rope bridge, and a giant python. You can also see the laser canon from Castle Grayskull peeking out from the cave on the far right. The playset was later repurposed for Snake Mountain.

Image source: The Power and the Honor Foundation Catalog, Vol. 1

In his later days He-Man seemed to lose all vestiges of his early barbarian/jungle warrior heritage, becoming instead a kind of Superman-like figure in furry shorts. However, as someone whose first exposure to the character was the earliest mini comics and the first wave of toys, my heart will always lie with the He-Man of spear, sword and sorcery.

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